University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the defending regular-season and tournament champion, has been selected to win the 2018 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) men’s basketball title, based on a preseason poll conducted by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
The Falcons, who are ranked No. 10 in the D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25, bring back three starters from a squad that claimed the 14th regular-season crown and second tournament title in program history. UW-River Falls also made its third NCAA championship showing. Leading the returnees is senior forward Alex Herink, who claimed WIAC Player of the Year honors after placing fourth in the WIAC with 15.9 points per game and seventh with 5.9 rebounds per contest. His 30 blocked shots ranked second in the conference, while his .843 free-throw percentage (102-of-121) was third.
Also back is senior guard Devin Buckley, who was third on the team with 10.6 points per game. The Falcons will play their home games in the sparkling new 2,149-seat Don Page Arena.
UW-River Falls is followed in the conference predictions by: UW-Whitewater; UW-Oshkosh; UW-Eau Claire; UW-Stevens Point; UW-Platteville; UW-La Crosse; and UW-Stout.
UW-Whitewater, ranked No. 11 by D3hoops.com, returns its top-three scorers from last year’s team that made the 21st NCAA appearance in program archives. Senior guard Chris Jones had a team-best 17.9 points per contest, while senior forward Scott Tyler contributed 14.4 and junior forward Derek Rongstad had 11.1. Jones also had a team-high 88 assists, while Tyler topped the squad with 6.0 rebounds per game and 31 blocked shots.
UW-Oshkosh reached the title game of the WIAC championship a year ago for the third consecutive season and made the program’s seventh NCAA championship appearance. The Titans’ lineup will feature guards Ben Boots and Charlie Noone, who combined for 149 three-point field goals made a season ago with Boots making 70 and Noone a league-high 79. Boots finished second in the WIAC with a .849 free-throw percentage (90-of-106) and led the Titans with 13.8 points per contest. Noone was second on the team with 13.5 points per game.
UW-Eau Claire’s 18 victories a season ago were the most since the 2000-01 squad had 19 wins. The Blugolds bring back senior guard George Diekelman, who finished third in the league with 95 assists and second on the team with 14.1 points per game. Head coach Matt Siverling is five wins away from reaching 100 in his career.
UW-Stevens Point junior guard Ethan Bublitz led the WIAC with a .872 free-throw percentage (82-of-94) last year. He was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 14.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest. Bublitz also produced team highs with 55 assists and 23 steals.
UW-Platteville welcomes back 15 letterwinners, including junior guard Robert Duax, who was second in the league with 16.8 points per game a season ago, while leading the Pioneers with 72 assists and 41 steals.
UW-La Crosse welcomes Kent Dernbach as its interim head coach, replacing Ken Koelbl, who posted the second-most wins in program history with 201. Dernbach served as associate head coach at UW-Stevens Point since 2011. Junior forward Ben Meinholz had a conference-best 58 steals a year ago and was the team’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per contest. He also had a team-high 75 assists and 19 blocked shots.
UW-Stout senior guard John Keefe led the squad with 15.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest, 119 assists, 56 three-point field goals made and 39 steals during the 2016-17 campaign.
2017-18 Preseason Predictions--Voted on by WIAC Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors
1. UW-River Falls 25-4 overall, 12-2 WIAC
2. UW-Whitewater 22-7, 9-5
3. UW-Oshkosh 17-11, 9-5
4. UW-Eau Claire 18-8, 8-6
5. UW-Stevens Point 14-10, 8-6
6. UW-Platteville 8-17, 1-13
7. UW-La Crosse 14-13, 5-9
8. UW-Stout 13-13, 4-10